Rice-Sized Eye Implant For Diabetics

Most of us cringe when we think of getting something in our eye—let alone having something implanted into our eye to stay. But if an implant could stop vision loss from diabetes complications, then suddenly it doesn’t seem so bad. And if you have to have something stuck in your eye, the smaller the better.

A new implant, smaller than a single grain of rice, promises to reverse vision loss for those with diabetic retinopathy in the least invasive way possible. The device can be inserted in the office, no hospital visit required, and lasts for three years. It’s called Illuvien, and it’s designed to release medicine that treats diabetic macular edema.

Photo: Adobe Stock/Sophia Winters

Macular edema is often caused by diabetic retinopathy. In retinopathy, high blood sugar levels damage the tiny blood vessels in the retina, causing them to leak. Diabetic macular edema occurs when the resulting leakage causes the macula, which is near the center of the retina, to swell and thicken. Those suffering from macular edema will experience blurred vision and, if left untreated, macular edema could lead to blindness. Diabetic retinopathy is one of the leading causes of irreversible vision loss among Americans.

Illuvien prevents the swelling that leads to blurry vision and vision loss by releasing a small amount of medication every day. It’s been on the market for about three years and is a welcome change from other treatments that include the use of lasers or needle-injected medicines every one to three months.

Photo: Adobe Stock/gwimages

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One implant every three years is significantly preferable to monthly or quarterly needle injections. Those deemed in need of the implant will receive one in just one eye first and, if needed, receive an implant in their second eye after they’ve been monitored for side effects and infection.

Illuvien isn’t cheap—one implant costs about $8,000, though it’s covered by most insurances. But the price doesn’t seem that bad when you consider that injections cost anywhere from $50 to $2,000 every time. And preserving your vision? That’s priceless.

Photo: Adobe Stock/lassedesignen

The implant is specifically for those with diabetic macular edema. As the device is still new, there is a lack of long-term research on its effects, and as always, any eye treatments should be discussed with a ophthalmologist.

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